This is Life

By A.L. Diaz

“This is Life”

Mamma stayed in bed again today. Papà says to let her sleep. He says five out of eight children isn’t so bad. Sister will do Mamma’s chores for now. And at least now, Papà says, I have my own bed. People come and people go. This is life, and we must move forward, for if we move backwards, we’ll just keep stumbling.

I suppose he’s right. But the bed seems much bigger than I imagined. I can’t possibly need this much room to myself. And it’s so cold. I don’t remember it being this cold. Big and cold, like the mouth of a monster. This bed might swallow me. It waited for me, waited until I was alone to suck me into its lumpy core. Because of my distrust, I fear sleeping. I think I’m dreaming. Or maybe I was dreaming. I want to ask Mamma, but she stays in bed now. I don’t know how long she will be. I could ask Papà, but I don’t think I want to know the answer.

I ask Papà what to do. He tells me not to think about it. So I try not to, but I didn’t know how hard it would be. Papà goes to work, comes home, feeds us dinner, then goes to bed to do the same thing again tomorrow. He does really well at pretending nothing happened.

Maybe I’ll be like him someday, but for now I stay awake, afraid the monsters will consume me.



“Father”

He had not seen her for more than a year so when he knocked on the door his pulse quickened. He flattened his hair and tried fighting back the smile stretching across his face. But when the door opened it disappeared.

Unkempt coils strayed in all directions and the stench of wine wafted through the crack. “You look familiar,” the woman on the other side slurred over the sound of a wailing infant. 

“Are you drunk?” Alessandro yelled, eyes bulging in horror. It required little effort to make his way inside where the sitting room had not seen any maintenance in months. 

From behind him, the girl giggled. “Sandro, when did you get here?”

Setting down the basket of groceries Mrs. Neumann sent him to deliver, Alessandro told her, “You hear the baby is crying, right?”

“It’s always crying,” she scoffed as she wandered to the couch. “Come sit down with me. I’d love to sit down with you.” Gaby dropped herself over the back of the sofa and landed with her legs up. 

The crying came from down hallway. Leaving the inebriated girl for a moment, Alessandro went to retrieve the bawling child. “When was the last time you fed him?” he asked as he emerged from the hallway. 

“I don’t know,” she laughed, her bare feet flexing in the air. “Come over here.”

Alessandro brought the basket of food to the kitchen with him. He recalled Mrs. Neumann had included a quart of milk so he fetched a nurser bottle. When he reemerged from the kitchen, the infant quaffing the provided liquid, Gaby had not moved. The girl wiggled her toes and slurred, “What are you doing?”

“Feeding the baby,” he grunted, pushing her aside to sit down. “Like his mother should be doing.”

“I hate that baby,” she grumbled as she lifted her head. She rested it on Alessandro’s lap and groaned. “Do you know how babies are made? Because I don’t.”

Alcohol must have had something to do with her comment. “You are joking, right? How do you not know?”

Fascinated by her wrist, the drunk girl replied, “I’m only a little bit certain. All I know is the man pushes the girl down and puts something in her and bangs against her until he’s done. I don’t know what it is he puts in her, but it hurts a lot.” Somehow, she found enough orientation to climb up his body and rest her head on his shoulder. Assaulting him with the stink of fermented grapes, Gaby glared at her child and hiccupped. “And then it hurts coming out. Why would anyone want to do that? It’s terrible making the baby and it’s terrible birthing it. My mom did that eight times. She must be dumber than a bag of rocks.”

Many words pooled at the back of his throat, but he swallowed them all down and said nothing. 

The infant in his arms started squirming, which made her moan. “Shut up,” she yelled at him. “Why the hell are you even crying? You got your damn food.”

“Why are you yelling at him? He’s a baby.” His tone came out much stricter than intended which caught them both off guard.

“You’re very attractive when you’re angry,” Gaby gurgled before bursting into fits of giggles.

“You’re drunk.”

“Let me touch your face.”

She reached out for him but he grabbed her extended arm before she had a chance. In that moment he hated everything. He wanted to take her home, bring her back to her old self, kiss her, make things better for her. “Gaby,” he started, hating himself for knowing what he had to say, “I know you hate your husband, but you can’t take it out on your child. It’s not his fault you’re here. He’s just a baby who needs you, and you need to be his mother. Just because Dietrich is his father doesn’t mean he’s Dietrich.”

Gaby dropped her hand. She leaned on him and shuddered, and Alessandro pretended not to notice her crying. After a few minutes, the infant fell asleep while her breathing slowed as she grazed her fingers up and down his arm. He felt her grow heavier and in almost an inaudible voice he heard her whisper, “I wish you were his father,” before she, too, fell asleep.

Alessandro sighed and kissed her head. “Me, too.”



“Two Months”

Two months had passed. Two months after she made love to him. Two months after the greatest evening of her life. Two months after she found strength to keep fighting through her broken marriage.

Two months without a sign from her body that she got away with it. 

Alone in the house, she sat in the tub, stroking her lower abdomen with a trembling touch. Did something reside inside her? When she was pregnant with her first child, she had the traditional symptoms of vomiting and mood swings. But this time, as she lay half emerged in water, unmotivated to get out. She could not bear to lift her head. She wanted nothing more than to sleep. But when she did sleep, she dreamed of a wolf. A wolf on two feet that chased her through the house and into the woods where, no matter where she hid, it found her. Every time she lifted her head it was as if it had doubled in weight. Resting her hand above her pelvis, she could not help but worry. Her husband had not touched her since their son was born. He said she had served her purpose, why would he need to do it again? It was why he bought them separate beds. 

She wondered if she could convince him that he did it to her in a drunken fit. If the baby came out looking like Alessandro, would he even notice? What if he caught onto her lie? What if he did not believe her? Would he kick her out onto the streets? Would he kill her? Or the father of her unborn child? After almost eighteen years, had she ruined everything by letting herself experience some kind of joy? How dare she endanger everyone with her selfish actions. What sort of monster puts their own happiness over that of others’ wellbeing? He would murder them. All of them. All because of her.

In her descent into the abyss, her head spun fast enough that it fell over the side of the tub where she vomited her breakfast. Her skin turned to ice and she struggled to keep herself from drowning. Her throat jerked again and again until she had nothing left in her stomach and hung on the bathtub, the porcelain amplifying the snare behind her ribs.

Her surroundings faded, turning black and restoring until a cry broke through her lungs. Tears intermixed with hyperventilation, turning into more dry heaves that almost dragged out her insides.

The bath water had turned cold by the time the torment faded. Body draped on the bathtub, all but dead, it refused all orders for movement. 

But for a moment, she thought of his touch. A touch so loving it returned sensation to the depths of her soul. She closed her eyes, crying as she pushed the memory of him from her mind. 









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